Land use for bioenergy production –
assessing the production potentials and
the assumptions of EU bioenergy policy
Trends and Future of Sustainable Development
Francesca Allievi and Jenny Turunen
• Introduction
• EU bioenergy policy, the assumptions it is based on and
• Overview of bioenergy potential estimations
• Conclusions
• Bioenergy is actively promoted by the EU and U.S. as a
means to fight climate change and peak oil.
• Bioenergy from cultivated biomasses requires a lot of
land  conflicts with other uses for land; food
production, nature conservation etc.
• No consensus about the ecological benefits of
bioenergy, especially liquid transport biofuels: research
shows negative energy balance and increased GHG
• Potentials for bioenergy production are calculated in
various ways, which produce a wide range of outcomes
EU bioenergy targets
• EU targets: by 2020, 20% of the total energy and 10% of
the transport fuel used in EU comes from renewable
• Three important drivers: peak oil, climate change and the
dependency of the European economy on transport
• Transport sector accounts for more than 30 % of total
energy consumption in EU and is one of the main
reasons for the EU failing to meet the Kyoto targets
Arguments used to justify bioenergy
• The EU arguments that bioenergy is sustainable and
beneficial, because it will:
– Reduce Co2 emissions, based on the idea that bioenergy is
carbon neutral
– Increase energy security in Europe due to less dependence on
imported fossil energy
– Boost rural development in industrialised and developing
countries by diversifying the production base and creating new
employment in the rural areas
Critique of the EU assumptions
• Ambiguous boundaries of the life cycle: Increased Co2
emissions from direct and indirect land use change and
processing and transportation of the end product
• Energy security: land availability, already in 2006
Germany imported 60% of the biomass it used for
• Rural development: most of the potential is seen in
developing countries, where the production happens in
large scale plantations  few employment opportunities
and poor working conditions
• Food versus fuel –debate: competition on land and the
crops  rising food prices
Bioenergy potential estimations: demanddriven and resource focused studies
• A demand-driven assessment is one that analyses the
competitiveness of biomass based electricity and
biofuels, or estimates the amount of biomass required to
meet exogenous targets on climate neutral energy
• A resource-focused assessment focuses on the total
bioenergy resource base and the competition between
different uses of the resources.
Bioenergy estimation – theoretical, technical,
economic and implementation potential
• Theoretical: describes the theoretically usable physical energy
supply in a given region in a certain time span. It is solely defined by
physical limits and thus represents the upper limit of the energy
supply contribution theoretically feasible. For the evaluation of the
real availability of biomass the theoretical potential is thus of no
practical relevance.
• Technical: part of the theoretical potential that can be used given
current technical possibilities. Takes into account structural,
ecological (e.g. nature conservation areas) and other non-technical
restrictions. Describes the possible contribution of renewable energy
to the satisfaction of the energy demand from a technical
perspective, depending on time and location. Less subject to
fluctuations than the economic potential.
Bioenergy estimation – theoretical, technical,
economic and implementation potential
• Economic: part of the technical potential that is
economically exploitable in the context of given current
basic conditions.
• Implementation potential: refers to the expected actual
contribution, usually lower than the economic potential.
Heavily affected by policy and can even be greater than
the economic potential, if for example the option for
using renewable energy is subsidised (e.g. market
introduction programme).
• Summary of bioenergy supply estimations in 2050 from
Berndes et al. (2003) and Thrän et al. (2010)
Estimations of bioenergy potentials in 2050
Industrialized countries
Developing countries
Global primary energy
supply in 2007 (IEA)
• Bioenergy production, and especially agroindustrial
production of biofuels is under heavy criticism: Does not
reduce GHG emissions, causes serious environmental
damage and social injustice and is a very expensive
• The calculations of bioenergy potentials show that
industrialised countries will not be able to cover their
bioenergy needs domestically  Massive imports from
developing countries needed
• Promoting biofuels as a feasible option for replacing
fossil fuels gives the impression that the industrialised
countries are postponing addressing the critical question
of how to radically reduce the consumption of energy
and other natural resources in the western societies.
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Francesca Allievi Finland Futures Research Centre, University of